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2016 Global Cities in an Era of Change Symposium

SPIRE was proud to co-sponsor the 2016 Global Cities in an Era of Change Symposium held at Stanford University from March 30-April 1.The symposium sponsors included the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). 

Over 200 attendees toured major projects in the Bay Area and attended the 3-day conference, which focused on challenges presented by the growing shift of populations to urban areas, and how cities, large and small, must effectively plan, adjust and innovate to build living environments that meet expectations of diverse populations. Additionally, Stanford students participated in an Innovation Challenge which encouraged students to develop creative new approaches to overcome the challenges of urban living, creating environments where citizens not only successfully co-exist, but thrive.  

The symposium began with three tours of the Bay Area. Those who chose Tour I had the opportunity to visit the thriving South of Market Area (SOMA) in San Francisco. The tour showcased how the one-time warehouse district has become a technology hub today. Tour II, a tour of San Jose and the heart of Silicon Valley, included a tour of LinkedIn and its new office property located in Sunnyvale. Google’s campus was a feature of Tour III, with attendees fortunate to have Google campus and executives leading them around the campus.

Wednesday’s tours concluded with a welcome reception held at the Cantor Arts Center on campus. Attendees enjoyed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the center and outside in the Rodin sculpture garden. 

Thursday began with an informative keynote address by Chip Conley (’82, MBA ’84), Head of Global Hospitality at Airbnb. Chip delighted the attendees with a summary of his career path from Joie de Vivre Hospitality to Airbnb. He provided insights into the significant growth Airbnb has experienced and how his role at the company focuses on creating the user experience. He described his view of how innovation happens and referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of the Partnership for Architecture & Urbanism and Associate Professor of Practice at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation (GSAPP), spoke about designing smart cities and how the goal is to not simply use technology, but create a quality of life. He discussed the changing nature of urban dwellers – how they work, live, and play, and their expectations going forward. Vishaan provided attendees an inside look at the “new urban normal” and the trends and conditions creating it.

Deland Chan (’07, MA ’07), Lecturer, Program on Urban Studies at Stanford, led a panel of experts who focus on the embedding of information technologies in our buildings, communications, infrastructure, and transportation networks, redefining how we conceive, design, build, and manage cities. After the panel, Andrew Eland, Director of the Social Impact Engineering Team at Google, and Brett Goldstein, Special Advisor for Urban Science at the University of Chicago and a former Chicago Police Officer, discussed their work on improving cities with technology. From understanding crime patterns and better deploying law enforcement to utilizing Google Map traffic reports to assist cities in better understanding their traffic patterns provided real-life examples of how technology is bettering cities around the world.

Over lunch, Luís Bettancourt, Professor of Complex Systems at Santa Fe Institute, explained his studies of cities as systems. Luís has developed novel general insights based on data from around the world on how cities function and why they grow. He shared examples of how the interconnected understanding of urban change everywhere — as interdependent physical, infrastructural, and socioeconomic processes — is generating novel solutions to old problems, new approaches to urban planning, and a clearer path towards sustainable development.

The afternoon panels were equally engaging. Hugh Kelly, Clinical Professor at the NYU Shack Institute of Real Estate, led a panel which included Roger Barrett of Korea Business Consultants, Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg of HafenCity Hamburg GmbH and James R. Worms of Paladin Realty.  These panelists provided their experiences and challenges of investing, building and operating real estate all over the world. 

SPIRE’s own Ed Friedrichs (’65) led another panel in the afternoon that discussed sustainable cities around the world. Donald Clark of Cathexes and Steve Straus of Glumac presented a project in Reno, Nevada that has been many years in the making and is striving to be one of the most sustainable projects in the world. Kit Miyamoto of Miyamoto International, one of the most respected engineering firms in the world, provided a glimpse in to his goal of creating sustainable buildings through better engineering. 

Thursday’s conference programming concluded with a capital markets discussion focused on addressing ongoing environmental, governance and social issues. Jeff Jacobson (’83, MA ’84) of LaSalle Investment Management, Philip Barrett of Pramerica Real Estate Investors, Frank Billand of Union Investment Real Estate and Robert While of RealCapital Analytics joined moderator Martin Bruhl of Union Investment Real Estate and RICS for a lively discussion. Panelists spoke about public- private partnerships and their ability to be a model for the future and the impact “green construction” may have in putting an end to accelerated functional obsolescence.

On Thursday evening, attendees gathered at the Sofitel in Redwood City for dinner and Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Chertoff described the key risks facing global cities of the 21st century in a riveting examination of our life and times. 

Attendees returned to the Arrillaga Alumni Center Friday morning for a keynote presentation, three more panel discussions and a keynote address during lunch. Sam Zell, Chairman of Equity Investments Group, participated in an engaging conversation with his friend and SPIRE member Ed Friedrichs (‘65). They interpreted the changing global economy, discussed the rise of certain emerging markets, and featured major innovations in transportation and lifestyle, which are all changing the built environment.

In Silicon Valley autonomous vehicles are top of mind as we see them driving around the Bay Area from time to time.  Andy Walburger (’00), former Executive Director of SPIRE, Mark Platshon of BMW iVentures Fund, Shobana Sankaran (MSM ’11) of NAUTO and Gerry Tierney of Perkins + Will all discussed how these new modes of transport impact urban infrastructure and sustainability. They also shared their highly developed vision of the world’s transportation future, how that vision will affect the urban landscape, and why the driverless car is a fait accompli.

Smart cities increasingly rely on digital technology to promote wellbeing and increase their ability to respond quickly and effectively to local and global emergencies. Panelists Graeme Wood of The Atlantic, Heather Roiter Damiano of NYC Emergency Management and Tom Justin of The Weitzman Group spoke about today’s challenges in cyber security, terrorism, natural disasters, and breaches in a myriad of systems affecting everything from bank accounts to electrical grids. They addressed the risks and what specific steps cities and those who live and work in them can take to prepare for the sudden catastrophic event – both natural and intentional.

The final panel on Friday addressed the Reinvention of Cities. According to the National Resources Defense Council, between now and the year 2050, urban growth will only continue to rise: 89 million homes and 190 billion square feet (about 17.5 billion square meters) of retail industrial, office, institutional, and other nonresidential space will be built in the United States alone. Featured panelists Andy Cohen of Gensler, Colin Shepherd of Hines, Lisa Wise of Lisa Wise Consulting and Ed Friedrichs (’65) discussed the concept of the future city and how it dramatically impacts where we live, our interaction with our surroundings (open space and the built community), and what we seek in a professional environment. The panelists focused on new types of cities and how they are leveraging cutting edge technologies, infrastructure, design, and planning techniques to create communities which act as living, breathing organisms, positioned to communicate not only with their residents, but within themselves.

The programming concluded on Friday with the award of the first Buzz McCoy Innovation in the Urban Environment Award, followed by discussion over lunch with John Barton of the Stanford Architectural Design Program, Jim Curtis of The Bristol Group, Buzz McCoy (’58) and William Ramseyer.

The Buzz McCoy Innovation in the Urban Environment Award came about as part of the Human Cities Urban Innovation Challenge. The challenge was designed to tap into Stanford students’ creative potential to address critical social challenges. Stanford students have proven to be great engineers, entrepreneurs, and technologists. When they engage with the world, they can also strive to be kind neighbors, active citizens, and thoughtful designers. By focusing innovation on urban-centered social, infrastructure, and policy questions, the Stanford students were supporting the ongoing global effort to imagine and remake cities into more human-friendly places to live, work, play—and to celebrate our common urban future.

Student teams were asked to focus their entries on one of five themes:

  1. Democracy & Civic Participation
  2. Mobility in the Future City Health
  3. Urban Recreation & Public Spaces
  4. The Future of Work
  5. Urban Infrastructure: Building Blocks of Cities

Teams submitted proposals which were then judged by a panel of judges. From there, the remaining five teams created displays which were available to conference attendees on Thursday. Conference attendees interacted with the student teams and voted on which ideas they viewed as most innovative. Later, a team of judges from SPIRE, CRE, RICS and the University gathered and determined the awards.

The first place award went to – Andrea Carafa and Harrison Glotman – of ArtsUp. ArtsUp is a bit like Airbnb in that it allows locals to host arts events in unique spaces. It will allowed artists access to currently untapped performance spaces via the sharing economy. People could host cultural events in their living rooms, squares, backyards, public gardens, boats, bookstores, etc.

The other four student teams worked on ideas centering on composting public toilets, cap and trade for municipal water systems, bringing greenery to underground transportation systems and harnessing the energy of children on public playground to create a renewable energy source.

In all, the student competition brought another layer of interest to the conference and gave attendees a peek at the creative potential of Stanford students.

The luncheon concluded an outstanding 2 ½ days of programming and tours for the attendees. SPIRE was honored to co-sponsor the event at Stanford and looks forward to more opportunities to bring real estate and place-making discussions to our members.